Day 3, 03JAN2017
Hitting the snow! Hirafu hosts two adjoining resorts – Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu and Hanazono Niseko Japan – both are ski resorts direct out of Josh’s dreams. The snow here is pristine, brilliant white and dry enough that the numerous times I fell while boarding down the mountain did not cause me to incur sopping wet snow gear.
When we arrived last night, Tony drove us to his son, Ben’s, work place so I could rent the necessary gear to enjoy the snow. I read in the Lonely Planet Guide to Japan that it is very typical for Japanese and foreign skiers to arrive in Hirafu without board, skis, boots or even snow gear. Thus, it is normal and relatively easy to rent everything one may need for days or weeks on the mountain. For instance, Josh needed snowboard pants and jacket, and I needed a board, boots, helmet, gloves, beanie, pants and a jacket. Ben actually hooked Josh up significantly – the two men are the same size and Ben offered to lend his gear for free to Josh. Meanwhile, I received a splendid discount on boots, helmet, jacket, pants and the board. Foley let me borrow his beanie, and Tony lent me his gloves. All in all the suiting up for the snow portion of our trip went exceptionally well, just as Lonely Planet predicted.
The North Point Pension provides delicious brekkie each morning between 0700-0800. Tony takes orders once you sit down and then disappears into the kitchen to make your bacon and eggs. The pension provides toast, coffee, tea, juice, cereal, fruit, and yogurt on the buffet. Enough to sort any mountain goer out for a great morning feed.
At 0800 promptly Tony commences shuttling people to the .Base of Grand Hirafu. The place is actually called .Base with the period before the word. Interesting how English is written around here. Josh and I jumped into the van with a fellow North Point couple from Sweden, PJ and Maria, and arrived at .Base just in time to purchase our lift tickets before the morning lines wrapped around the building.
We opted to purchase lift tickets just for the Hirafu and Hanazono resorts. The mountain actually hosts four ski resorts, the other two Tony warned us hadn’t yet received tons of snow, so he reckoned we should stick to the cheaper double-resort option. I got a two-day pass, Josh procured a five-day pass.
Foley and Purcy joined us shortly thereafter and off we went! Our first lift, Ace Quad Lift #2, brought the four of us midway up the mountain. I quickly re-learned why I do not enjoy snowboarding. Even getting off the lift is a torturous event, one rife with nerves and concern. Thankfully I did not wipe out descending from any lift on this trip, although I did stop a few times in a fashion one would call “ungracious.”
Josh, being the consummate gentleman, stayed with me the entire time on the mountain. I worry he may have hoped I’d return to the sport excited, gun—ho, and at least decent. Instead, I screamed a bit each time I’d pick up too much speed, and especially on the first day, I took to “stopping” by running clear into the sides of the runs where the snow was piled shoulder high.
We stopped midday for lunch at the Hanazono 308. By this time I was exhausted. I’d fallen backwards down the mountain on one of my very first runs, while toe side facing up the mountain the back of my board actually caught the edge causing me to flip backwards. Unfortunately I had at this time enough speed to cause me to land on my head first instead of my backside. By lunch time this flip had caused my neck to feel extremely sore. Oh, who am I kidding? By lunch time my entire body was sore.
Josh and I shared a massive plate of pork cutlet curry with rice. The food here was cheap and came in huge portion sizes. I felt as if I were back in the USA!
After lunch Josh pressed on with me for a few more runs down the Hanazono Resort side, and then we skipped over to the Grand Hirafu around 1430 to call it a day. Unfortunately, getting from Hanazono over to Grand Hirafu requires one to take the Holiday run. This run starts out as a red (or blue for all of us who learned to ski in Europe/North America) and then turns into a green. By this time I was fine with the blue, knowing that it was my ticket home and off the mountain. Unfortunately the green portion of the route is actually relatively flat. For those snowboarders reading this post you know what I mean when I say flat runs are the worst. Snowboarders don’t have poles to pull them forward when the momentum runs out. Josh and I actually had to take off our boards a few times during this run and hike out because we literally had no forward movement while strapped in.
Once we finally made it to the bottom of the hill, Josh congratulated me for surviving. This made me feel somewhat better, because at this point I genuinely was hurting all over and felt as though I’d held him back the entire day from being able to enjoy the snow.
We quickly went home to drop our gear off, and then all convened at the local onsen for what turned out to be the best medicine in the world apres ski. I’ll discuss the onsen in a later post though because today’s has become quite lengthy.
Post-onsen we enjoyed, interestingly enough, tacos from a literal hole in the wall restaurant. When I say literally, I actually mean it – I’m not misusing this term. You climb through a door maybe five feet tall, down a curvy staircase into a bar the size of a closet. On the other side of the bar is a hole, carved into the wall opening the space up into what looks like may have once been a root cellar. It is through this hole in the wall we were greeted with chips, salsa, chicken wings and tacos.
Following our dinner, we happened upon yet another door a la Alice in Wonderland. This refurbished coca-cola fridge door leads into what possibly is the coziest bar in Hirafu. The place specializes in Japanese Whisky. Carmen had recommended the “Apple Pie” cocktail, and it truly tasted like a slice of warm American Greatness. We enjoyed the aromatic drink barside, sitting maybe a foot off the ground surrounded by colorful Japanese Whisky bottles, the sound of jazz playing on the record machine, and the glorious view of snow falling on birch trees from the massive window in front of us. A great way to conclude an otherwise painful day of snowboarding.